How OCD and anxiety make the morning after a night out terrifying for a Sheffield student

Hangovers are the worst, we all know that. Waking up on a Sunday morning, feeling rough and questioning everything you did the night before. But for OCD sufferers, the next day can be unbearable. Ellie Houghton shares her experience.

Ah, hangover anxiety. ‘Hangxiety’ as it’s affectionately labelled. Definition: waking up with the absolute fear after a heavy night out drowning your sorrows in cheap gin and conspicuously coloured shots.

Ellie (right) on a night out with a friend

 It’s pretty standard to have the inevitable questions; ‘What did I say? What did I do? Who did I see?’ But usually, when the headaches are gone and the Snapchat stories have disappeared, the fear gradually disappears and you can carry on with your mediocre life, claiming you’re ‘never drinking again’ knowing full well you’ll end up out on Saturday night.

But what about the people who physically can’t shift the constant dread? Still re-living every moment over and over again for days, maybe weeks. As a diagnosed OCD and anxiety sufferer, this is the exacerbating reality of heavy drinking.

I’ve never been one to let my irrational anxieties stop me from going out, socialising and making bad drunken decisions. But at the grand old age of 23, the day-after anxieties have become unbearable. It took me a while to realise that what I was experiencing wasn’t actually normal, and despite how much I tried to insist my OCD and anxiety had nothing to do with how I was feeling, late-night scrolling of forums told me otherwise.

The one tool that OCD uses to control its sufferer is doubt. You doubt everything. You doubt whether you’ve turned your straighteners off (even though your seven-step plug check routine, complete with taking photos of all potential fire-starting appliances safely tucked away in their drawers, usually ensures you definitely have turned it off).

I am fully expecting a knock at my door, police storming in

You doubt whether you’ve accidentally run over someone and not realised (and obviously you must go back to the scene and repeatedly check for a body for at least seven circuits), and you will doubt everything you’ve done on a night out.

For some stupid, unexplainable reason, my OCD can make me convinced I’ve done things I most certainly haven’t. Really bad, unspeakable things, that I would never think myself capable of.

 I’m not a nasty person, so why is my brain telling me that while I was drunk last night I screamed abuse at a stranger, hit them, and then proceeded to leg it? Even three days later, I am fully expecting a knock at my door, police storming in, and dragging me off to jail.

These ‘false memories’ as I’ve come to know them, are crippling and often debilitating. They make me feel that I am slowly going insane, and I can’t voice it to anyone for fear of not being understood, or worse, being believed that I’ve done these heinous things.

For a long time, I couldn’t differentiate between a false memory and a real one. The more I’ve experienced, the more I’ve acknowledged the different gut-feelings that come with each memory.

 Usually, a false memory will start off very hazy, and the more I concentrate on it, the more I piece events together, it becomes clearer and clearer in my mind. I can SEE it unfolding in front of me if I close my eyes. I can picture the face of someone I’m attacking. I can see them fall. I can see people around me reacting.

I can fully picture events in my head that never occurred

It is terrifying. If I’m in a clear mindset, I can usually accept by this point that this is a false memory, and after some mind-numbing distractions I can put it to the back of my mind (though not always permanently- it’s bound to raise its ugly head again in the future, OCD is really fun like that).

 We’ve all had nights out where the events seem kind of hazy. But this is a new level of haze. I can fully picture events in my head that never occurred, and were never even close to happening.

I know what most people would say if I told them this. ‘Why do you go out and drink if it makes you feel this shit?’. Easy. When I’m drunk, bopping away in a shady Sheffield bar knocking back 90p doubles on a Monday night, I’m having the time of my life. All my anxieties disappear, I have a new-found confidence and my self-esteem is at a high. Why should I have to stop going out just because my head can’t cope with the next day? And so the hangxiety cycle rolls on and on …

I’ve been taking antidepressants for over 18 months now to curb my anxiety and OCD behaviours. Is it working? Yes. Do I feel like I want to come off them? No, the thought terrifies me.

“Medication might be the way forward” (Photo: Pixabay)

I always thought, deep down, that popping a pill every morning is just masking my illness, not curing it. It took me a long time to accept that medication might be the way forward for me. There is so much stigma around medicating mental illnesses and I felt like I would be a failure for succumbing to it. But I’m not. I’m actually a strong-ass person for acknowledging that I needed the help, and I know every time I take my meds I’m one step closer to recovery.

I’m also undergoing CBT, counselling and starting exposure therapy (it’s not as scary as it sounds, trust me!) and I’m learning how to manage my crippling thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, hangxiety is still the bane of my existence, but I’m hoping one day, I’ll get there. Baby steps, right?

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